Tongablog

Join our adventure in The Kingdom of Tonga

Archive for December, 2007

Happy New Year!

Well we are still settling into our new home here in Ha’apai. I am finally over my Dengue Fever (or as it was classified at the hospital, food poisoning). We took an overnight trip to Capitan Cook’s guest house on Uoleva for Christmas and stayed in the blue fale closest to the beach as the Lonely Planet suggested and it was awesome. Check out the pictures on Pictures 2007 page 2. It was a very international Christmas. There were Tongans, 5 of us Peace Corps, the JIKA Volunteers from Japan, the owners of Mariners who are from South Africa and Poland, and an Austrian guy who has been living here in Tonga for the past 12 years.

I start to work this week now that I am feeling better and Karen starts about 3 weeks from now. This is the usual summer/Christmas break for kids here. Karen is itching to get started, I guess she’s bored. She’s going to be teaching at a GPS (Government Primary School) here in Pangai, and hopes to integrate public health as a secondary project. I am going to be working for a place currently called Ha’apai Vocational Training Center setting up a computer lab and I hope to dedicate at least a computer or two to GIS and working with the Ministry of Lands, possibly even teaching a small class on GIS. I will eventually be in charge of teaching computer classes and maybe the development of an Internet Cafe.

We hope everyone is doing well and having a good holiday! We are on the international date line so we will be ringing in the New Year before just about everyone thats reading this blog!! So there. Please take care and email us!!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

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Don’t Worry, Be Ha’apai

Well hello!  I feel like it has been so long since we have updated with a blog post.  I don’t have the camera with me right now, but I promise that we will update photos as well ASAP!!  We made it to our new home in Pangai, Ha’apai.  Pangai is on the island of Lifuka. It is difficult to explain the feeling that I had when we landed here.  I think that because we hadn’t yet been to Ha’apai, there was a great sense of fear about the place, due to the unknown.  When we landed, we both definitely breathed a sigh of relief.  Ha’apai is undoubtedly absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous.  The natural beauty of the place definitely calmed any initial fears. 

We settled into our new little home, happy to finally have a place of our own.  Our yard alone has a mango tree, lime tree, breadfruit, papaya and guava trees!!!  It is amazing, and I love “grocery shopping” without even leaving our yard.  We are really excited to start a little garden of our own.  I will say that our house is very rustic, and definitely will require a little getting used to.  It is very much a traditional Tongan home, especially in that both the bathroom and kitchen are outside.  We do have a flush toliet, but the bathroom essentially looks and feels like an outhouse.  I am definitely struggling with the realities of bathing outside, especially in light of finding numerous scorpions in the shower!  It feels a little like an animal farm right now.  A family of chickens apparently inhabited the house before we arrived, and we had to engage in a little bit of turf war with them to reclaim the space.  We have to keep our doors open here because of the heat, and to our dismay– full grown hens, chickens, and roosters kept wondering inside our house!!  We found more than one egg, so I think they are a little freaked out by our takeover of the space.  We also found a teeny tiny abandonded baby kitten in our yard.  I named it “Faka ofa Squeaky Doolittle.”  Faka ofa means pitiful in Tongan, and this poor little guys is very pitiful.  We are trying our best to nurse him to health, but honestly- I don’t know if he will make it.  The first couple of days in Ha’apai were quite a welcome.  This week is an annual weeklong celebration of culture here on the island, and we were immediately invited and attended numerous feasts, traditional dance performances, and parades.  Ms. South Pacific and the Australian Prime Minister were two other attendants, which we thought was pretty cool!

A few days ago Scot got sick with a high fever.  He is doing okay, but it seems like he probably has contracted Dengue Fever.  If you know anything about Dengue, you are probably groaning “Oh No!” right about now.  It has often been deemed “bone break fever” because of the incredibly painful body aches and joint pain.  We are doing our best to treat it and keep him comfortable, and he is a real trooper.  I will keep everyone posted.  Beautiful as it is, Ha’apai is a really difficult place to be sick.  There really is very little health care treatment options or expertise available.  He was in the hospital here for a couple of days, and all I will say is that the hospital failed to have soap anywhere (including bathrooms), nor did the windows have screens.  Fighting off Dengue is not exactly the best time to be battling swarms of mosquitos from your hospital bed..  Definitely keep us in your thoughts right now!  If you feel like calling, I know that he would love to hear from any of our friends/family back home.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for those of you who have graciously sent us mail and care packages.  I can’t even adequately express our gratitude.  If you would like to send a package- some of our current needs are: candles (there is only one very dim light in our outdoor kitchen, and it is really hard to see at night), tupperware, herbal tea, ground coffee or coffee singles, rubberbands for ponytails, cat flea collars (even if our little guys doesn’t make it, I’m sure we’ll find another one to adopt), and as always- I miss reading People Magazine and Vanity Fair:)

It is official!

Well, our ten weeks of Peace Corps Training has come to an end, and we were successfully sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers on December 13!  I have one word for Peace Corps training, and that word would be “intense.”  The past two and a half months were a whirlwind of language and culture training.  We lived with Tongan families and spent a large amount of time with the other 31 trainees.  There is no way for me to sum up our training experience on a hastily written blog post, but I will say that our time in Tonga has already been hilarious, emotional, frustrating, joyous, and a litany of other descriptive adjectives that are not coming to my mind at the moment.  We were both pleased with our scores on the language exam, and feel generally ready to head to Ha’apai!  We leave first thing tomorrow morning and will update the blog ASAP with more details about our new life there.  We have seen a couple of photos of (our very modest) home.  The bathroom and kitchen are outside (!), but it also looks like a beautiful mango tree is right outside the window as well.  Just a little bit of background on the “Swearing-In” photos, soon to be posted on our page.  The Peace Corps office has several photos of previous other volunteer teams here.  They span the last three decades, and several of the photos from the late 1970s are completely hilarious.  So… our training group was Group 73.  Several of our team decided that we would dress up more like Group 1973… If you are wondering why a group of guys have sleazy “Tom Selleck” mustaches and the ladies have Farrah Faucett  feathered hair, they were channeling the Peace Corps from back in the day!  Hope your holidays are going well.  We LOVE hearing from all of you:)

Hello Nuku’alofa!

Today is Scot’s 31st birthday, and we are back in the capital city of Nuku’alofa on the island of Tongatapu.  With our Tongan homestays behind us, it feels like a small chapter of this journey has ended.  Leaving Ta’anea was more emotional and tearful then we had expected.  In hindsight, it was surprising to see how over the last six weeks, we really had become a part of the small coummunity.  The outpouring of hospitality was almost overwhelming, and we left Ta’anea with gifts of tapa (bark from the pandera tree that is pounded into cloth and painted with intricate designs from natural dyes), mats woven from coconut frounds, jewelry (fashioned from shells, bones, and coconuts) and a beautifully carved kava cup for Scot. 

This gift was quite pertinent because the kava ceremony is absolutely integral in the Tongan (and much of the Pacific) culture.  The legend of kava is long and detailed, and has been passed along through oral tradition.  The story reveals themes of the social roles and hierarchy of the monarchy versus the commoners, the historic practice of cannibalism, and the use of the kava root in ceremony, gift, and tradition.

In Ta’anea (and most, if not all Tongan villages), men are constantly taking part in a kava circle.  The kava root is dried and ground up into a powder, which is then mixed with water and strained with coconut husks.  The kava drink is a light brown muddy color and has a bitter taste.  The kava circle is exclusively for men, with the exception of the “doua,” which is an unmarried (typically young) woman who serves the kava.  The ceremonies have a tendency to last for hours.  They are often very jovial (with much laughing and teasing), but are also a place for networking and informal village meetings.  The ranking males (typically the village talking chiefs and pastors) sit in prominent seats in the circles.  Once we arrive to our site in Pangai, Scot will be expected to attend  kava circles on a regular basis.

For now, we are back in Nuku’alofa, enjoying a bit of city life.  As our photos highlight, we have very fond memories of our time in Vava’u.  Snorkeling in the crystal clear Pacific waters was like visiting another universe.  I felt like I was in the Disney film “Finding Nemo” and let go of my shark fears long enough to be mesmerized by the brillant and diverse aquatic life. 

We ate a wonderful Thanksgiving feast prepared by the current volunteers, and the village homestay culminated with a  fantastic experience student teaching Class 6 students at the Ha’alafuli Government Primary School.  We hope your holiday preparations are going well.  Don’t forget about us in the tiny island Kingdom of Tonga:)  We hope to update the blog soon with an “Educational and Cultural” page, to explore in futher detail some of what we are learning!